Monday, March 18, 2013

Fiddle Recital

Madeline, Sarah Brewer, Clara Fletcher, Seth Brewer, and Ella

Madeline and Ella's violin teacher arranges a recital every year with a different focus.  This year, the theme was fiddle music.  Mrs. Spencer arranged to have adult guitar players, bass players, and fiddle players who accompanied the kids.  Madeline and Ella's age learned Old McDonald, Bile them Cabbage Down, and Camptown Races, as well as part of Orange Blossom Special.   They ended up playing with some friends they've been playing with for the past three years, so there was a familiarity with the group.  The kids were all coordinated with clothes, handkerchiefs, etc, and the music was fantastic.  The older kids played beautiful pieces.  The recital took place in a retirement center, so there were some older folks who really enjoyed having the children play.

Ella and Madeline get ready for the recital.

Madeline went to a fiddle camp last summer and learned some Irish and Swedish fiddle music, dances and songs.   Her teacher invited her to play one of the songs she learned.  Madeline courageously agreed to play an Irish fiddle song that she really enjoyed, "Brosna Slide".  She had a Bass player and Guitar player accompanying her.  She did a wonderful job.  I was proud of her for have the courage to play, but most of all I was proud of her when she forgot where she was during the piece that she kept on playing.  She felt bad afterwards for her mistake, somehow thinking she was the only one who made a mistake, and she almost let that overshadow the number of people who came up to her and me and told her what a wonderful job she did.  She was by far the youngest child to do a solo there, and people wanted to let her know they were impressed with her hard work.

Madeline plays her solo, "Brosna Slide"

The cookies and punch afterwards helped her lay to rest, at least temporarily,
 her disappointment.  I hope she learned that mistakes are inevitable, but continuing to start over again and do your best is what really matters.  It takes confidence to be able to do something with the knowledge that you might make some visible mistakes along the way.  Life is such as this.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Minnesota Boys

We finally have some ground cover worthy to be called a Minnesota winter.  Previously, the lack of snow was masking the arctic climate we live in.  Since it's the beginning of March, the cold single digits have disappeared and it's practically balmy weather for sledding.  Any warmer and the snow would be melting.  Max and Sam have asked every day this week to go play outside.  They are mostly able to get everything on by themselves, though they like me to remind them whether to put boots on first or snow pants:)  They each take a small sled and they sled in our backyard for an hour before they come traipsing in with cold, red cheeks.

Max and Sam ready to go outside

Yesterday, Madeline and Ella had a snow day.  My tennis babysitter reminded me it might be their last ever snow day, so we tried to enjoy it.  I snowplowed while the kids built small forts on the side of the driveway.  They love to duck behind the forts when the plume of snow blows at them when I push the snowblower past.  I am amazed at the luxury of lying in snow and partaking of the landscape of the endless cloudy blue sky.  Evidently the kids are as well, because in addition to making snow angels, I saw them multiple times plop down in the snow and lie there as if on a bed.  I did shake my head at Sam who both plopped down on his back and on his stomach.  He came up with a face full of snow.

Max eating his snow cone

After playing in the snow, we made snow cones, gathering clean snow and slathering it with sugar syrup.  I think when we were kids we used an Equal and Vanilla concoction to make our snow cones.  They tasted delicious to us, and the kids were enchanted as well.

Sam with a mouthful of snowcone

I am amazed that it is March, which means we've made it through the darkest, coldest days of winter, and spring is around the corner.  I like this time of year, because there is no work to be done outside, it still gets dark around 6:00pm, and I can read a book at night and not think I should be working outside or enjoying the weather.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Strange Men Make an Appearance in our Life!

Tonight, at the dinner table, I was left speechless.  As the kids finished up their favorite meal of instant oatmeal, Ryan prepared to leave to study for his Board exams.  
This conversation followed with Madeline:
"Dad, where are you going"?
"I am going to study at work for my big test."
"I hate it when you study because all these strange men come over to our house."  There was a 15 second pause that lasted forever as my mouth fell open and Ryan looked at me shocked and confused.    
"What strange men come over to our house"?  He asked accusingly.
I had no idea what Madeline was talking about, but since I had started playing tennis, Ryan and I have had more conversations about appropriate and inappropriate relationships with persons of the opposite sex.  I could see his thinking that strange men coming over while he was gone at night could only be construed as totally inappropriate.
"You know your friends who come over to study with you on Wednesday nights".  
I breathed a palpable sigh of relief, as did Ryan.  But now the question is, does Ryan let his friends know that his daughter thinks they are "strange men"?
Madeline loves peace signs, flowers and dragons (one of these is not like the others)

We had a wonderful weekend, after a busy week.  Madeline and Ella both had Girl Scout Cookie booths to work at, and I volunteered with them.  Ryan took 3 kids with him to clean the church while Ella and I headed to the mall for her cookie booth.  It was a slow start at the mall, and Ella was disappointed, though she worked hard to offer samples and smile at passersby.  Halfway though, a man came by, and said he didn't need to buy any cookies because his daughter was selling cookies, but would Ella take this money and buy a box of cookies for the next five people who walked by.  This delighted Ella, she loved giving away boxes of cookies, and it made the time more enjoyable.  Another nice young man came up, and gave her the money to buy a box of cookies for the girls to share for a snack since they were working so hard.  The kindness of strangers made the booth so much fun.
Max and Sam working in the kitchen with me

After Ryan finished cleaning the church, we made the car pass-off, and I took everyone home for lunch, followed by quiet-time, followed by mandatory outside time.  Everyone groaned and complained as we suited up, but we ended up having a blast sledding outside.  Despite having one sad child, the rest of us really enjoyed making snow angels and sledding.  Sam and Max were proud to be able to sled by themselves, and when Sam went to down, he asked is he had set a world record.  Thinking of his triple roll, followed by his face plant, I considered that to be special enough for a record, and I yelled down the hill affirmatively.  He jumped up, threw his hands in the air, and yelled, "Yes, I knew it".  Tonight as we ate dinner, Sam told Ryan that he had set a world record when we were sledding, and Ella said it was just because he was silly.  Sam was crestfallen, and I quickly told him that his record was for bravery because it was very brave for a 3 year old to sled down by himself.  Since he loves superheroes, he knows that bravery is a really important characteristic, and he was very proud of earning this record.  After coming inside, we took off our wet snow clothes and made hot chocolate and tea, a real treat for our kids.

Max and Sam help me make Ryan's birthday cake

Then it was time for Madeline's cookie booth OUTSIDE.  We were with two of her friends and their parents outside Gander Mountain.  The girls were cold, but they worked very hard at getting people to pay attention to them, and asked many people if they would like to buy cookies.  Halfway through, one mom went to the dollar store, bought some poster board and a marker, and the girls made a sign that said, "Resistance is Futile".  They held up the sign and danced up and down the street as they tried to stay warm.
Both booths were a success.  We have already canvassed our 2 neighborhood, and sold 250 boxes.  The cookie booths sold 85 boxes of cookies.  I can see how my girls are developing into hard workers.

Ella with the side ponytail

Today, we had another great sledding day.  And, this one included Ryan.  He really enjoyed being outside and sledding with us.  At one point he started a snowball fight.  As it progressed, he ran and tried to tackle me onto the snow.  Luckily, I got my arm around his head, and as he pushed me down, his head went right into the snow for a great face plant.   We had such fun time laughing and racing down the hill as we tried to set new records.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ella, Jan 2013
Yes, this is what met me at breakfast a few weeks ago.  I was so stunned it's taken time to recover.  My sweet (sometimes) and annoying (wow- she's so good at that) little girl was wearing bright blue eye shadow and red lip gloss, proud as peacock. Of course, when I pulled out the camera, I caught a little attitude.  She wore this look for a couple of weeks.  Madeline was getting unwanted attention on the bus and at school about why her sister was wearing blue eyeshadow.  Madeline tried it one day, but to a much milder degree.  Where has the time gone.  I still think of her as being 5 or 6, like this:

Ella and Madeline ages 6 and 7
And yet, tell-tale signs all over the place indicate otherwise.  She is infatuated with bras, and can't wait to wear one.  She thinks her best birthday ever will be when she turns 13 and can watch Pirates of the Caribbean, The Avengers, and a growing list of PG-13 movies that she thinks she missing out on life by having to wait to see them.  
For our quarterly date, she and I went to Best Buy to check out the mini I-Pad.  She asked me if it had FaceTime, and when I affirmed, she started asking questions about how much it cost compared to the I-Pad.  I asked if FaceTime was important to her, and she said she wanted to buy a mini I-Pad so she can FaceTime her friends when she moves.  We talked a little about how long it would take a buy an I-Pad at the rate she earns money.  Not wanting to discourage her, I offered to let her use my laptop for FaceTime until she gets the I-pad.  "Mom, not to be mean or anything, but if I use your laptop, then you say things like, "Ella, don't touch that"  or "Three more minutes", and I'd rather have my own so that I don't have to deal with that", she responded.  I told her I could understand her desire, while chuckling to myself.  
I look back at pictures of the girls, and remind myself to enjoy the delight of their ages, because when it's gone, I always think, "ooh, they were so cute and said the most adorable things".  Somehow, when I'm in the mess of all the un-cute things they do and the un-adorable things they say, I can miss the magic of who they are and who they are becoming.  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If these old trees could talk (Daufuskie edition)

The most identifiable flora of South Carolinian geography is the Live Oak Tree with Spanish Moss.  You notice it as you drive south, with it's hauntingly eerie presence in centuries old cemeteries and along stretches of tired road which have seen such history played out.  As our ferry docked on Daufuskie Island, and I saw the familiar trees, I was curious about all that had happened under their watch.  The Indian Massacre out at what is called Bloody Point, the plantations that produced cotton crops, and, the Gullah, who stayed on Daufuskie after slavery ended and build a church in 1881.  Ryan and I had been intrigued with Daufuskie Island for years since we read Pat Conroy's, The Water is Wide, a story of his year teaching there.

From the time we landed at the dock those Daufuskie trees bore record of our adventure.
Max, Madeline, Emmy, Ella and Tony on the Ferry to Daufuskie

Our family boarded the ferry with 5 Bodilys (Sarah's family), 5 Greens (Flossie's family), 2 Mcleans (Bethany and Eric), and 4 Dalias, along with a myriad of other people heading to the island.  We boarded at Hilton Head Island and headed south, loving the warm 65 degree weather.
Sam on the Ferry 

 When we docked an hour later, we were met by Bryan and three golf carts, as there are very few cars on the island (one of the reasons it's a safer island for so many of us to go to). One golf cart malfunctioned immediately, the one Ryan was driving with all our luggage, and Bryan ended up pushing it with his golf cart the 3 miles to the other end of the island at Bloody Point.  It was unfortunate the the golf cart went faster once I hopped off, so I ended up running to the house, greedily sucking in the warm air and memorizing the breeze blowing through the spanish moss.


Our house was magnificent. A part of the old country club, it was perfect for our ginormous family.  It consists of 8 bedroom apartments, each with it's own bathroom and tow queen beds.  So, each married couple got their own apartment.  We had enough space and privacy that we were able to stay mostly polite the entire week.

As there are no stores (with the exception of a small general store), we brought all our food with us, so once we got to the house and unpacked, we were done with our work for the week (that's a fallacy, but we didn't have to leave to work).  We fed the 14 grandchildren who were there, and left them in the care of younger Dalia kids and Grandma and Grandpa and headed over to the old Country CLub restaurant, a short 1 minute walk from our house.   We feasted on seafood and caught up with everyone.  We were there so long that everyone started getting phone calls from mom, who was tired and wanted us to come home so she could go to bed.

From me:  Jenn, Flossie, Chris, Bryan, Tripp and Rhonda, Sarah and Adam

The next morning, several of us headed to the First Union African Baptist Church, over 130 years ago by freed slaves.  This was my first trip to church via golf cart and wearing pants.  I enjoyed driving by the old school in which Pat Conroy taught grades K-12 in a 2 room school house.
 We strategically sat near the back, where a kids table was set up with crayons, puzzles and books.  Ryan felt nervous about the audible negotiating of the cousins not used to playing together, and 15 year old Seth who is the rowdiest of them all.  The preacher noticed his trying to quiet the kids and from the pulpit encouraged him to come listen to the words of Christ, as all in the church were familiar with children and were not put off by their noise.  As the service ended, the chorister announced a children's choir she was putting together for the Christmas program the next day.  She was looking for children to participate.  Mom volunteered her 22 grandchildren to sing, and suggested that Madeline and Ella would play a violin duet.  

So, back we headed on Monday, Christmas Eve for the Christmas Eve service.  Due to the importance of the children, the church sent  a van to pick us up.  We crowded 24 children and adults into the 12 passenger van.  The children sang, "Let there be Peace on Earth", and Madeline and Ella played, "The First Noel".  I enjoyed the words and music, and appreciated the brevity of the hour long service.

Dalia Grandchildren

The 22 grandchildren and youngest of mom's and dad's kids were so excited about each other and the beach and the pool table that Santa bringing stockings was secondary to the fun the inhaling.  After the service, the kids all changed into their pajamas and came to the living room for story time.  By this time, Joey, Crystal, Mark and Erin had arrived with their children, and everyone was their except Hannah and Johnny.  With 16 kids, 7 spouses, 22 grandkids and 2 parents, there were 47 people there.  
Talia, Ella and Max listen to storytime

That night, Santa left stockings only for all the children.  My siblings and I, in order to help out, lined all the chairs from the 5 family tables and hung stockings 2 to a chair.  We set a time of 7:30 am to reconvene.  In the morning, we opened presents and kids ate candy.  In the afternoon, we asked Ella if she was going to follow through on her plan to get baptized in the ocean.  She had previously planned on this, but as she had played around on the waters edge the previous three days, she was nervous about how cold it was going to be.  If everyone hadn't been telling her how excited they were for her baptism, I think she would have terminated the plans. 
Ella and Katie listen to a talk about Baptism
 But, at 2:00, we all met up, where Grandma gave a brief talk, Madeline played, "I am a Child of God", and then we headed outside.  

It started raining as soon as we went outside, so we were bundled in our winter coats. Ella asked her grandpa and her uncle Joey (who let her drive the golf cart by herself) to be the witnesses.  At the waters edge, Ella started whimpering, so Ryan picked her up and headed into water chest deep, where he put her in and quickly baptized her.  When they got out of the water, I put a blanket and towels around them, and they headed inside where Ella had a long bath.

The rest of the week was full of fun.  I was amazed to see 10 little boys aged 2-5 who loved the same things.  Those boys were either pushing balls around on the pool table, playing soccer outside with Uncle Tripp, or playing angry birds on iPads and iPhones.  They loved looking for sand dollars at the beach, and digging in the sand.  
Max takes a turn at bat while Tony leads a distraught Sam to wait in line for his turn.
Grayson, Colbey and Max play and watch Angry Birds
Colbey, Max and Uncle Bryan
Ryan and Sam walking out to the beach
The older girls and younger Dalia kids lots of fun playing games, playing on the beach, and making bottle cap jewelry.  The girls had a few sleep-overs.  They came up with their own games and created their own gangs, battled the wicked forces on the frontiers of the beach and in the jungles of wild oaks.  The alligators that roam the island were hibernating, much to everyones relief, so they didn't have battle real enemies.  After we put the kids to bed at night, the adults would congregate in the main room to play Catch Phrase, Twister, Phase 10, etc, or to debate gun control, feminism and religion.  We left at night exhausted and laughing.

Karleigh, Ella, Baylee, Tali, and Chloe
Karleigh and Ella
Jenn overseeing Twister
We spent some time together as a family unit, but the kids didn't seek us out very often.  Right in front of the house were clay tennis courts, so Ryan and I were able to play tennis three of the days there.  The clay slowed Ryan's balls down a little, so we were more evenly matched than we usually are.
We took the kids on a golf cart ride to see the island a little and invited Eric and Bethany to come with us.  We visited a family graveyard from the 1700's where one of the first white families to settle were buried.  The kids weren't very impressed with it, or with the 500 year old oak tree down the road.  They asked us to return them as quickly as possible to the main house, as they were certain they were missing out on too much fun.
McLeans and Swapps at the Mary Dunn Cemetary

500 year old tree

The meals and the sickness were legendary during the week, as was the adult time each night.  Each couple took a night and prepared food for 50 people with huge appetites.  We had fantastic food to eat every night, Italian, Mexican, traditional Christmas, and soup.  Desserts were in abundance, and herbal tea was commonplace before we battled it out at Catch phrase and phase 10.  The second night there, three kids vomited, a worst case scenario in such close quarters, and considering how many candy canes, cups and spoons had already been shared.  Amazingly, the sickness stayed mostly in mine and Sarah's family.  Sarah's two oldest vomited the whole time we were there, but only at night.  Ella vomited two nights.  Max vomited 10 times our second to last night, and Sam waited until we were de-boarding our airplane in the twin cities, where Ryan slipped the legendary barf bag under him seconds before he let loose.  In utter graciousness, as I heard Sam gag seconds before, I grabbed our luggage and ordered the three older children to follow me, telling Ryan I'd meet him outside. 

Swapp family in front of the 500 year old tree.  You can't see the scowls from this vantage point.

We left the island a week after we came, getting back to the ferry in a variety of methods.  I ran the 3.5 miles, pushing Max and Will in a stroller.  Chris and Adam rode their bikes.  Ryan and Eric drove the golf cart with our luggage, and got lost, but made it to the ferry in time.  We were so sad to leave the company, the beach and the trees, but glad for the memories and stories we would take back with us.  As I ran to the ferry those trees kept me company on the solitary trip, and I thought that if they could talk, having seen all the events that transpired in one week with my family, if those old trees couple talk, they would have some tales to tell.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy 8th Birthday Ella

Here's a little about Ella at 8 years old:

Favorite Friends:  Ginny, Reagan (both live in our neighborhood, Reagan lives behind us.  There are some sparse trees between our houses, and Madeline, Ella and Reagan spent many days this summer with duct tape and stalks that they used to build a shelter in the trees.)
Favorite Activities:   Apple Bobbing(never tried it before, but she is sure she will do it sometime and will love it), baking (her and Madeline recently made their first batch of sugar cookies entirely on their own)
Favorite trip during her 7th year:  Dominican Republic.  She loved going to the sea and finding sea-shells, which we have sitting in our closets.  She loved the buffet choices at the resort.  And of course, she loved spending time with her grandparents
Favorite books:  Rainbow Magic Fairies, Geronimo Stilton, Chronicles of Narnia
Favorite foods:  Mashed Potatoes with gravy and Turkey
Favorite Dessert:  Apple Pie, Cinnamon Rolls (At the dinner table every night, in an effort to encourage our kids to sit for longer than 3 minutes, Ryan asks an open ended question about different things.  One night he asked what makes a house a home, and Ella said, "Smelling cinnamon rolls every day makes a house a home".)
Least Favorite Thing:  Curries (which she must smell because that's what we are having for dinner. Yum.)

Ella has become a pinterest fan.  She scoured websites and pinterest exploring different birthday cake ideas, ranging for wedding cake to cheesecake.  She settled on a  couple of cakes that looked like they would take about 3 weeks on full-time work to complete, and I told her those were beyond my capability.  She finally decided she would be happy with a rainbow cake, which was within my commitment level.  

Ella and her friend Ginny

Ryan's favorite memory of Ella's 7th year:  Watching her crouch down in the sand on the Jacksonville Beach, scouring the sand for sand crabs and seashells.  And, having Ella grab his face between her hands, and say, "Daaaad, are you serious".

Jenn's favorite memory of Ella's 7th year:  Ella triumphantly telling us at the dinner table that she skipped her reading class by jumping out of the line, and hiding in a toilet stall in the bathroom for an hour.  No teachers found out about her escape.  Ryan and I are worried about teen years.

Madeline's favorite memory:  trick or treating on the trailer with Ella's friend Ginny, and neighbors Sawyer and Declan, and getting to go over to the extra neighborhood after canvasing our neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sam's 3rd birthday celebration

"Those are Max's fingerprints in the crepes" --Sam Swapp when told that no one would get any crepes until whoever pushed their finger through all the crepes confessed.

And so continues the adventure with Sam that started more than three years ago.  Quick-witted and warm-spirited, he gives me a "morning hug" followed by a "morning kiss" every morning, and a running bear hug every night.  He asks for a kiss for every boo-boo, and he acquiesces when I ask him to wash his hands and then I'll give him a kiss.  He yells when he doesn't like something.  He loves to play on Starfall, loves to watch Diego and Little Einsteins, and likes to be with his siblings over playing with toys.
Madeline made a beautiful mural for him, Ella bought a movie for him, and Max, who discovered last minute that he was the only one without a present for Sam, gave him his favorite present, a sucker his primary teachers had just given him. 
To celebrate, we went to Whitewater State Park.  The kids played on the sandy shore of a lake for a long time, the kids transporting tiny fish they caught to a makeshift pool.  Another boy started catching fish with them, but his mom, rather blatantly redirected him to return his fish to the place they originally came from, "so that we don't kill them.  They are too cute to kill them".  I wanted to let her know that the fish weren't cute, that the kids weren't killing them, and that kids learn to care for the earth and the things on it by engaging with them, but I kept my mouth closed.  After Madeline and Ella killed all the minuscule fish, we went over to grill our hamburgers and s'mores where undoubtably, the kids found other creatures of God to terrorize.  
Finally, we lit the sparklers, those ones that I had bought for 4th of July and forgot about.  Madeline and Ella tried to teach Max to write his name twirling the sparkler.  

By this time, it was dark, which was our intent, we had a fire ready to go, we lit it, and sat around as long as a three year old will amiably allow.  Ryan told a ghost story, which the kids begged out of him. Then Madeline told a story, finally Max told a mostly unintelligible story.  

Everyone is nervous about what is going to happen in the story.

Ryan reveals the crux of the ghost story.  Everyone is relieved to still be alive after the anticipation.  After the stories, we put out our fire, and headed home in the dark, a satiated and satisfied crew quietly listening to the music in the back.

On Sam's birthday, we had crepes for dinner, which someone- we think Max, punched holes through the entire stack.  Still, we enjoyed them.  We ate them with Apricot Jelly- Croatian style, and with Nutella, and homemade strawberry jam.  
We had apple crisp for dessert.  The day was prolifically filled with carbohydrates, which is the only food Sam eats with any amount of enthusiasm.

Sam's favorite present was a lollipop Max gave him.  

He was very excited about his baseball mit.  Our one left-handed child has had a struggle, when we put mits on to throw balls, he insists on putting on a right-handed one, even though he's putting it on his right hand.  Now he and I will have the two left-handed mits.  We've enjoyed a couple of games of baseball since Sam's birthday and the hit is a winner.
Three year olds sure love their birthdays.  They talk about it beforehand and afterwards, and want to know every day how long it is until their birthday again, and who gets to have the next birthday.  It's always a pleasure to be part of the enthusiasm.